Over 50 weight loss: Tai chi or yoga could be as effective as jogging

Reducing your cortisol levels with mindful exercise like tai chi can help with weight loss – perfect for the over-50s

Tai Chi
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're looking for ways to lose weight, top of your list when it comes to exercise is most likely running, or HIIT training, or even using some of the machines in the gym. All these are great exercises, and certainly worthwhile when it comes to weight loss. 

However, the best exercises for weight loss tend to be high-intensity, HIIT-focused moves such as burpees and medicine ball slams, while the best exercise machines to lose weight are usually thought to be treadmills or exercise bikes. If you're looking to lose weight over 50, you might find these circuit-training style moves a bit intimidating. 

Fortunately, research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that you don't have to do high-intensity exercise to lose weight. In fact, slow, mindful exercise could be just as effective. 

Researchers from several Chinese Universities and the University of California looked at tai chi as an example of slow, mindful exercise.  A total of 543 participants, all over 50 were randomly assigned to a control group with no exercise, a group performing conventional aerobic exercise and strength training, and a tai chi group. 

Woman doing child's position during yoga

(Image credit: Ginny Rose Stewart/Unsplash)

At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers found the tai chi group reduced their total waist circumference by 1.8cm, more than the traditional exercisers, who achieved an average reduction of 1.3cm.

This might be attributed to tai chi's calming effect, as well as the flowing movements: the relaxation brought on by the therapeutic exercise lowers the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol activates our body's "fight-or-flight" responses, which also helps us store fat. Imagine if we're cavemen in life-or-death situations – in stressful situations, you need fat reserves to continually provide energy. Less cortisol means less weight gain.

Of course, tai chi is just one example of this kind of slow, mindful, low-intensity exercise perfect for over 50s: certain styles of yoga can also offer this benefit, as can meditation – as little as ten minutes of mindfulness, performed at any time of day, can reduce our cortisol levels, boosting our mood and reducing our waistlines.

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.